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CFP certification: A complement to an accounting practice

The accounting profession is changing.

As the tax filing industry becomes more and more commoditized, CPAs need to pursue a more advisory-based practice model that ensures they are enhancing their clients’ financial lives throughout the year, instead of just during the busy tax season crunch. And, as the dust from last year’s federal tax overhaul continues to settle, many clients need sophisticated and sustained financial planning solutions to help them navigate this new tax universe.

There’s good reason to think that many consumers could look to CPAs to fill this role. A recent survey from 1st Global found that the majority of respondents would discuss investments and long-term financial aspirations with their CPA or accountant, and 74 percent stated they were somewhat or extremely comfortable doing so.

But CPAs can’t just jump into offering investment advice or financial planning services. In fact, the AICPA itself has acknowledged that additional training is needed before CPAs can be considered competent financial planners.

Potential clients echo these sentiments. When the CFP Board conducted a nationwide consumer survey among upper-income households, 85 percent of those surveyed considered successful completion of a certification examination "very important" or "extremely important." At a time when more Americans are struggling to pull their finances together, many are looking for trusted advice to help plan for the future.

As more CPAs look to offer investment advice and financial planning services beyond personal tax returns and audits, they should consider the CFP designation to help round out their skill set. The CFP certification enhances the CPA license by providing professionals with a 360-degree approach to financial issues impacting individuals and families, generating a critical value-add for clients and preparing CPAs for a career-long commitment to meeting the ever-changing needs of clients.

Over the course of earning the CFP certification, prospective financial planners are trained to act as coaches and problem-solvers and will have the competence to provide truly personalized services that clients need and value. The CFP designation shows clients and prospects that a CPA’s skills go beyond the preparation of tax returns to signal a commitment to providing financial advice that is in the best interest of the client.

For CPAs, taking fundamental knowledge, especially in the tax arena, and marrying it with the training and subject matter expertise the CFP certification requires, results in a powerful combination. A staggering 81 percent of CFP professionals feel they have a “competitive edge” over financial planners who do not hold the certification.

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In addition to answering client demand, seeking CFP certification makes good business sense. Research by Aite Group shows that CFP certification can be a key differentiator for firms and individual financial professionals looking to improve the quality of their advice and provide additional value to clients. CFP professionals earn 26 percent more in compensation than other financial advisors, adjusted for years of experience. And practices with CFP professionals generate 40 percent more revenue than other firms.

The financial impact on CPAs and their firms is far from trivial—HD Vest found that those who brought financial planning into their practice generated an average of $1.7 million in incremental revenue over five years, leading to $670,000 of incremental profit—the equivalent of processing 570 additional tax returns. Unsurprisingly, HD Vest research also found that 84 percent of the tax professionals who have added financial planning would recommend someone else to do the same.

Earning CFP certification entails multiple steps, but the good news is that if you’re currently a CPA, you can get on a fast track toward CFP certification. CPAs are among a handful of individuals who are able to leapfrog other candidates by simply taking a capstone class, passing the exam and successfully completing both the background check and experience requirements.

For CPAs specifically, adding a financial planning capability helps address a longstanding difficulty of the profession by amplifying and diversifying revenue streams. For firms and individuals, adding financial planning to their repertoire provides the impetus for sustained contact with and services for clients throughout the year and could help alleviate some of the burnout and crunch of busy season.

In the lull between last year’s chaotic tax season and next year’s new filing process, it’s the ideal time to take your career to the next level.